Act Out


When asked what advice I’d give to aspiring writers, I often say, “Take an acting class.” That’s because, in an acting class, you’ll find out what storytelling feels like from a character’s point of view, and you’ll get that feeling in your bones.

An actor knows that, in every scene, her character is trying to get something. She can’t get it right away, so she has to try different strategies to reach their goal.

When you’re structuring your core story, think from the point of view of your protagonist and fill in the blanks in this sentence: This is a story about ________,  who wants ________, but they can’t get it at first because_________,  so they __________.

For Hamlet, you might fill in the sentence like this: This is a story about Hamlet, who wants to avenge his father’s death, but he can’t at first because he gets caught in his own ambivalence, so he approaches the situation indirectly, challenging his mother, his murderous uncle, and the conventions of the court, without directly confronting them until the situation is out of control.

This exercise might sound simple, but, in my experience, it’s always challenging.

It’s also helpful, though, because it will keep  your story based in your protagonist’s goals. It’s not enough to simply ask, “What happens next?” In my view, it’s more interesting to ask, “What does my hero do next in order to reach her goal?”


About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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